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St Clelia Barbieri
Virgin, Foundress of the Congregation of Minims of the Sorrowful Mother (entered heaven this day in 1870)
Just one month until you begin a whole new chapter of your life. Right now the pages are blank; soon you will begin filling them with the tale of your college career. What will it tell? I hope it relates the story of a girl on fire with enthusiasm for study, burning with desire to know all about the world that Christ loved so much to come and save it, yearning tirelessly to do good to all those around her, with a supernatural glint in her eye and the strength of heavenly courage in her hands, fearlessly defending and extending truth, goodness, and beauty to the farthest corners of that college community. Is that what you’re hoping? Maybe you think it’s an exaggeration, a pious fantasy etched by a distant, deluded relation. I hope not. I hope you set your sights on the highest ideal and never settle for anything less than the best from yourself and from all those around you. That’s what love does, you know, and only love gives life lasting satisfaction. Just look at today’s saint, for example.
She was the daughter of a curious couple – her father came from the poorest family of a run-down village on the outskirts of Bologna (northern Italy), and her mother hailed from the most important and well-to-do family of the city. The match was resisted by relatives, but love won out and bore fruit in two daughters, the first of which was Clelia. As a child, she had to learn the hard trade of weaving and spinning hemp – the only industry which kept food on the meager tables of the town. But she also learned her catechism. In fact, she was gifted with such a delicate spiritual sensitivity (reminds me a lot of you), that she received her first Communion at the unheard of age (in those days) of 11. From then on God granted her a deep experience of his love and a mystical awareness of the grave offense to that love caused by sin, hers and the world’s. As a teenager, she felt a growing desire to serve God exclusively, and finally she left home to join the Christian Catechism Workers, a small group (mostly of men) that taught the faith to farmers and other laborers who fell through the cracks of normal church structures. She started out as an assistant, but soon, in spite of her young age, she became the heart and soul and leader of a small group of other women and girls who completely revived the smoldering work.
Clelia was a beautiful girl, and with more exposure to the public eye she soon received a barrage of marriage proposals (another characteristic that reminds me of you), all of which she graciously rejected. Her group then got the idea of forming a small religious community dedicated both to prayer and to the apostolate of teaching and serving the poor and abandoned social classes. As soon as they started, and moved into an old house near the parish, Clelia began to experience physical and moral suffering, not the least of which included calumny and humiliating insults. But she persevered, and only two years after the foundation, while she was just 23 years old, she passed from this life to the Father’s House.
She only lived till she was 23, but her spirit lives on in the Congregation of the Minims of the Sorrowful Mother, and in the souls of the thousands of people who have found truth, meaning and purpose through their ministry. So as you look forward to this new stage of life, don’t set your sights too low; aim for the mountaintops – no, scratch that, aim for nothing less than heaven itself.
Your devoted uncle,